Since moving to Basel, I’ve been dying to explore the nearby towns and villages across the border in France. There are dozens of charming towns to choose from. But after hearing Colmar inspired Belle’s town in Beauty and the Beast, I knew I had to visit. Last weekend we decided to rent a car and make it happen. The best part is, Colmar is less than an hour away from Basel and it’s a beautiful drive through the French countryside.
While in Alsace you’ll notice that this region has many Germanic elements, from the architecture to the food and even the local dialect. This is because Alsace was originally part of the German-speaking area of central Europe. In the past two centuries, Alsace has passed from France to Germany and back again with both cultures leaving their distinctive marks.
On our way to Colmar, Julian insisted we stop in a town he’d visited before and had fond memories of. He described it as “the cutest town ever” and he was right! Nestled between the Vosges mountains and the Plain of Alsace, Riquewihr is a magnificent medieval town in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards. It is classified as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France and it certainly lives up to its title. Riquewihr is a village of brightly colored half-timbered houses dating back to the 15th century. From the flowers spilling out of windowsills to its winding alleys, lively cafes and chirping birds, Riquewihr looks almost too idyllic to be real.
If you’re visiting Alsace, Riquewihr is not to be missed. Go for a traditional Alsatian lunch at one of the town’s many cafes and order a glass (or a pitcher) of Riesling, the wine for which Alsace is famous for. Afterwards, wander its cobblestone streets, peek into inner courtyards, and soak up the beauty of this historic town.
Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
Next we headed to the nearby Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg. Located on top of a steep mountain, this medieval castle offers an unbeatable view of the Rhine valley below. Naturally, Julian couldn’t resist flying his drone here. He ended up with some great shots of the castle and its surrounding forest from a bird’s-eye view.
After descending the winding mountain, we set off for the city of Colmar. Due to its position between the Rhine and Vosges mountains, Colmar has been an important center of trade since the Middle Ages. Like Riquewihr, Colmar is famous for its colorful half-timbered houses. However, it’s much larger than Riquewhir and boasts impressive merchant homes, Michelin starred restaurants, and luxury boutique hotels.
Luckily, we arrived just in time to walk through the old town before the sun went down. Every part of Colmar is fairytale-esque but by far my favorite area was “Little Venice.” Named so because of the canal that runs through it and the punting boats that resemble Venetian gondolas, Little Venice has become a popular destination for photographer’s the world over. Unfortunately, it was a bit overcast when we visited but the clouds did little to diminish its beauty.
A few tips: During summer weekends Colmar hits capacity so make sure to book hotel and dinner reservations in advance. While Saturdays in Colmar are lively and full of people, Sunday’s are much quieter. Also, most shops are closed on Sundays so do your shopping in Colmar’s cute boutiques on Saturday.